Earlier today, we noted that an update to Google Maps for Mobile was the clearest sign yet of Google going directly after Yelp. But it’s actually even more interesting than we thought.
Key to the new Google Maps for Mobile is Places, the new establishment-centric area which Google has been building up for about the past year or so. Places is basically an evolution of Google Local, which had been around for some time to pull in the best content for various local businesses. Previously, with Google Local, Google was using content they licensed to populate their review excerpts area. But apparently, that’s no longer the case. Google doesn’t have such an agreement with Yelp and yet Yelp content is appearing in Google Places.
And not only that, Yelp data often constitutes a lot of the review content.
Google actually used to have a partnership with Yelp to use their licensed content (read: customer reviews) a few years back, we hear. But Yelp apparently pulled out of that deal after Google was being too aggressive in promoting their own landing pages rather than those of the partners providing the content. But a few months ago, Google changed it policies, and began using content from sources they didn’t have agreements with — this brought Yelp data back into the mix.
And that’s what’s so interesting here. Google Places is now clearly going after Yelp, and the main way they can do that is by providing users with solid restaurant reviews. Some of that content is coming through Google’s agreements with outfits like Zagats and TripAdvisor, but a ton of it is coming from Yelp content that Google is simply getting by crawling it with their search spiders. And the only way Yelp could block this content from Google’s all-seeing eye is by no-indexing their entire site — a move which would effectively kill them since so much of their traffic comes from Google Search results.
And that’s the key to all of this. It’s not just Google Places, Google appears to be squeezing Yelp out of the game across the board. As Google continues to refine their search results pages, they’re clearly putting an emphasis on Maps (and soon, Places) for results. This highlights Google content, rather than third-parties like Yelp. These are being pushed farther down the results page.
And even though Google is using a good amount of Yelp content to populate its review areas, they’re shoving the reviews to the bottom of the results, below the reviews from licensed partners. The problem here is pages like this one for a burrito places in San Francisco. Of the 61 reviews listed, something 30-something of them are from Yelp. And yet the Yelp ones are all displayed below other ones from TripAdvisor, CitySearch, etc. Here’s another example — Yelp reviews start on page 11.
Obviously, the ramifications of this go far beyond Yelp. While the New York Times op/ed a couple weeks ago went a bit far in suggesting the government should oversee Google’s algorithm, their main point of Google using their power to bolster their own offerings and squeeze out competitors is a very real concern. And that’s exactly what this Yelp situation is all about — it’s just an especially sexy story since Google tried to buy Yelp last year and were scorned.
Speaking of which, some people will probably try to argue that perhaps Yelp should have seen this coming when they walked away from the $500 million+ offer from Google late last year. But this just seems unusually cruel. It looks a lot like Google is using Yelp’s content to bolster their offering — and paying them in swift punches to the face.